PSALM 134 OVERVIEW.
Title. A Song of Degrees. We have now reached the last of the Gradual Psalms. The Pilgrims are going home, and are singing the last song in their psalter. They leave early in the morning, before the day has fully commenced, for the journey is long for many of them. While yet the night lingers they are on the move. As soon as they are outside the gates they see the guards upon the temple wall, and the lamps shining from the windows of the chambers which surround the sanctuary; therefore, moved by the sight, they chant a farewell to the perpetual attendants upon the holy shrine. Their parting exhortation arouses the priests to pronounce upon them a blessing out of the holy place: this benediction is contained in the third verse. The priests as good as say, "You have desired us to bless the Lord, and now we pray the Lord to bless you."
The Psalm teaches us to pray for those who are continually ministering before the Lord, and it invites all ministers to pronounce benedictions upon their loving and prayerful people.
Verse 1. Behold. By this call the pilgrims bespeak the attention of the night watch. They shout to them -- Behold! The retiring pilgrims stir up the holy brotherhood of those who are appointed to keep the watch of the house of the Lord. Let them look around them upon the holy place, and everywhere "behold" reasons for sacred praise. Let them look above them at night and magnify him that made heaven and earth, and lighted the one with stars and the other with his love. Let them see to it that their hallelujahs never come to an end. Their departing brethren arouse them with the shrill cry of "Behold!" Behold! -- see, take care, be on the watch, diligently mind your work, and incessantly adore and bless Jehovah's name.
Bless ye the LORD. Think well of Jehovah, and speak well of him. Adore him with reverence, draw near to him with love, delight in him with exultation. Be not content with praise, such as all his works render to him; but, as his saints, see that ye "bless" him. He blesses you; therefore, be zealous to bless him. The word "bless" is the characteristic word of the Psalm. The first two verses stir us up to bless Jehovah, and in the last verse Jehovah's blessing is invoked upon the people. Oh to abound in blessing! May blessed and blessing be the two words which describe our lives. Let others flatter their fellows, or bless their stars, or praise themselves; as for us, we will bless Jehovah, from whom all blessings flow.
All ye servants of the LORD. It is your office to bless him; take care that you lead the way therein. Servants should speak well of their masters. Not one of you should serve him as of compulsion, but all should bless him while you serve him; yea, bless him for permitting you to serve him, fitting you to serve him, and accepting your service. To be a servant of Jehovah is an incalculable honour, a blessing beyond all estimate. To be a servant in his temple, a domestic in his house, is even more a delight and a glory: if those Who are ever with the Lord, and dwell in his own temple, do not bless the Lord, who will?
Which by night stand in the house of the LORD. We can well understand how the holy pilgrims half envied those consecrated ones who guarded the temple, and attended to the necessary offices thereof through the hours of night. To the silence and solemnity of night there was added the awful glory of the place where Jehovah had ordained that his worship should be celebrated, blessed were the priests and Levites who were ordained to a service so sublime. That these should bless the Lord throughout their nightly vigils was most fitting: the people would have them mark this, and never fail in the duty. They were not to move about like so many machines, but to put their hearts into all their duties, and worship spiritually in the whole course of their duty. It would be well to watch, but better still to be "watching unto prayer" and praise.
When night settles down on a church the Lord has his watchers and holy ones still guarding his truth, and these must not be discouraged, but must bless the Lord even when the darkest hours draw on. Be it ours to cheer them, and lay upon them this charge -- to bless the Lord at all times, and let his praise be continually in their mouths.
EXPLANATORY NOTES AND QUAINT SAYINGS
Whole Psalm. It is a beautiful little ode, equally full of sublimity and simplicity. It is commonly supposed to be the work of David. With what admiration should we contemplate the man whose zeal in the cause of religion thus urged him to embrace every opportunity that could occur to him, among the lowest as well as the highest ranks of life, of promoting the praise and glory of his Creator; now composing penitential hymns for his own closet; now leading the temple service in national eulogies of the most sublime pitch to which human language can reach; and now descending to the class of the watchmen and patrol of the temple and the city, and tuning their lips to a reverential utterance of the name and the service of God! --John Mason Good (1764-1827), in "An Historical Outline of the Book of Psalms."
Whole Psalm. This Psalm consists of a greeting, Psalms 109:1-2 , and the reply thereto. The greeting is addressed to those priests and Levites who have the night watch in the Temple; and this antiphon is purposely placed at the end of the collection of Songs of Degrees in order to take the place of a final "beracha" (Blessing). In this sense Luther styles the Psalm epiphonema superiorum. ("I take this Psalm to be a conclusion of those things which were spoken of before." -- Luther). It is also in other respects an appropriate finale. --Franz Delitzsch.
Whole Psalm. The last cloud of smoke from the evening sacrifice has mixed with the blue sky, the last note of the evening hymn has died away on the ear. The watch is being set for the night. The twenty-four Levites, the three priests, and the captain of the guard, whose duty it was to keep ward from sunset to sunrise over the hallowed precincts, are already at their several posts, and the multitude are retiring through the gates, which will soon be shut, to many of them to open no more. But they cannot depart without one last expression of the piety that fills their hearts; and turning to the watchers on tower and battlement, they address them in holy song, in what was at once a brotherly admonition and a touching prayer: Behold, bless ye LORD, all ye servants of the LORD, which by night stand in the house of the LORD. Lift up your hands in the sanctuary, and bless the LORD. The pious guard are not unprepared for the appeal, and from their lofty heights, in words that float over the peopled city and down into the quiet valley of the Kidron, like the melody of angels, they respond to each worshipper who thus addressed them with a benedictory farewell: The LORD bless thee out of Zion, even he who made heaven and earth. --Robert Nisbet.
Whole Psalm. The tabernacle and temple were served by priests during the night as well as the day. Those priests renewed the altar fire, fed the lamps, and guarded the sacred structure from intrusion and from plunder. The Psalm before us was prepared for the priests who served the sacred place by night. They were in danger of slumbering; and they were in danger of idle reverie. Oh, how much time is wasted in mere reverie -- in letting thought wander, and wander, and wander! The priests were in danger, we say, of slumbering, of idle reverie, of vain thoughts, of useless meditation, and of profitless talk: and therefore it is written, -- "Behold, bless ye the LORD, all ye servants of the LORD, which by night stand in the house of the LORD." Is it your duty to spend the night in watching? Then spend the night in worship. Do not let the time of watching be idle, wasted time; but when others are slumbering and sleeping, and you are necessarily watchful, sustain the praises of God's house; let there be praise in Zion -- still praise by night as well as by day! Lift up your hands in the sanctuary, and bless the LORD.
We may suppose these words to be addressed to the sacred sentinels, by the head of their course, or by the captain of the guard, or even by the high priest. We can imagine the captain of the guard coming in during the night watches, and saying to the priests who were guarding the temple, Behold, bless ye the LORD, all ye servants of the LORD, which by night stand in the house of the LORD. Or we could imagine the high priest, when the watch was set for the first part of the night, going to the priests who were under his control, and addressing to them these same soul stirring words. Now our text is the response of these sacred sentinels. As they listened to the captain of the guard, or to the high priest, telling them to worship by night in the courts of the Lord -- to lift up their hands in the sanctuary, and bless the Lord -- they answered him, The LORD that made heaven and earth bless thee out of Zion. So that here you have brought before you the interesting and instructive subject of mutual benediction -- the saints blessing each other. - -Samuel Martin, 1817-1878.
Verse 1. The Targum explains the first verse of the Temple watch. "The custom in the Second Temple appears to have been this. After midnight the chief of the doorkeepers took the key of the inner Temple, and went with some of the priests through the small postern of the Fire Gate. In the inner court this watch divided itself into two companies, each carrying a burning torch; one company turned west, the other east, and so they compassed the court to see whether all were in readiness for the Temple service on the following morning. In the bakehouse, where the Mincha ("meat offering") of the High Priest was baked, they met with the cry, `All well.' Meanwhile the rest of the priests arose, bathed themselves, and put on their garments. They then went into the stone chamber (one half of which was the hall of session of the Sanhedrim), and there, under the superintendence of the officer who gave the watchword, and one of the Sanhedrim, surrounded by the priests clad in their robes of office, their several duties for the coming day were assigned to each of the priests by lot. Luke 1:9 ." --J.J. Stewart Perowne.
Verse 1. Behold. The Psalm begins with the demonstrative adverb Behold setting the matter of their duty before their eyes, for they were to be stimulated to devotion by looking constantly to the Temple. We are to notice the Psalmist's design in urging the duty of praise so earnestly upon them. Many of the Levites, through the tendency which there is in all men to abuse ceremonies, considered that nothing more was necessary than standing idly in the Temple, and thus overlooked the principal part of their duty. The Psalmist would show that merely to keep nightly watch over the Temple, kindle the lamps, and superintend the sacrifices, was of no importance, unless they served God spiritually, and referred all outward ceremonies to that which must be considered the main sacrifice, -- the celebration of God's praises. You may think it a very laborious service, as if he had said, to stand at watch in the Temple, while others sleep in their own houses; but the worship which God requires is something more excellent than this, and demands of you to sing his praises before all the people. --John Calvin.
Verse 1. Behold. The first word in this verse, "Behold", seemeth to point at the reasons which the priests in the Temple had to bless Jehovah; as if it had been said, Behold, the house of God is built, the holy services are appointed, and the Lord hath given you rest from your enemies, that you may serve him acceptably; set about it, therefore, with gratitude and alacrity. We read ( 1 Chronicles 9:33 ) that the Levitical singers were "employed in their work day and night"; to the end, doubtless, that the earthly sanctuary might bear some resemblance to that above, where St. John tells us, the redeemed "are before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple": Revelation 7:15 . -- George Horne.
Verse 1. Behold, bless ye the LORD, all ye servants of the LORD. From the exhortation to the Lord's ministers, learn, that the public worship of God is to be carefully looked unto; and all men, but especially ministers, had need to be stirred up to take heed to themselves, and to the work of God's public worship, when they go about it; for so much doth "behold" in this place import. --David Dickson.
Verse 1. By night. Even by night the Lord is to be remembered, and his praises are to be rehearsed. --Martin Geier, 1614-1681.
Verse 1. Stand in the house of the LORD. The Rabbins say, that the high priest only sat in the sanctuary (as did Eli, 1 Samuel 1:9 ); the rest stood, as ready pressed to do their office. -- John Trapp.
Verse 1. Which stand in the house of the LORD. YOU who have now a permanent house, and no longer, like pilgrims, have to dwell in tents. --Robert Bellarmine.
Verse 1. Which stand in the house of the LORD. Let not this your frequent being in his presence breed in you contempt; as the saying is, "Too much familiarity breeds contempt;" but bless him always, acknowledge, and with reverence praise his excellency. -- John Mayer, 1653.
HINTS FOR PASTORS AND LAYPERSONS
Whole Psalm. There are two things in this Psalm.
- Our blessing God: Psalms 134:1-2 .
- How? By gratitude, by love, by obedience, by prayer, by praise.
- Where? "in the house of the Lord", "in the sanctuary."
- When? Not in the day merely, but at night. Some of old spent the whole night, others part of the night, in the temple, praising God. As Christ spent whole nights in prayer for his people, they should not think it too much occasionally to spend whole nights in praise of him. Evening services should not be neglected on the Sabbath, nor on other days of the week.
- God blessing us: Psalms 134:3 .
- The persons blessed: "bless thee" -- every one who blesses him.
- The condition: "out of Zion." In the fulfilment of religious duties, not in the neglect of them.
- The blessing itself: of the Lord. They are blessed whom he blesses. --R.
- God -- Jehovah -- the fountain of blessing.
- The heavens and the earth, evidence of divine capacity to bless.
- The church, a channel of blessing.
- The saints, the means of spreading blessing, through the spirit of blessing.
- The riches involved in the divine benediction. --Samuel Martin.
- Unique service: temple watching, night sentinelship. 2 Sublime society: the awful things of the sanctuary. 3. Holy uplifting: hands, hearts, eyes. 4. Praise in the darkness heard far up in the light. 5. Response from the stars fulfilling the prayer: "The Creator Lord bless thee." -- W.B.H.
- Night settles on the holy place: dark periods of church story.
- But God has his guards: Wycliffe and his band watching for the Reformation; Waldenses, etc. Never a night so dark but God is praised and served.
- Be it night or day, let the Levites fulfil their courses. --W.B.H.
Verse 1. The Lord's servants exhorted to be,
- Devout and joyful in their service. Sing at your work, though it be in the dark.
- Zealous to employ every season of service aright. "By night", as by day, "bless the Lord."
- Careful to avoid all hindrances to devotion in their service. When tempted to indolence and drowsiness, say:
"Wake, and lift up thyself, my heart, And with the angels bear thy part, Who all night long, unwearied, sing High praise to the Eternal King." W.H.J.P.
Verse 1. Directions for worship.
- It should be with great care: "Behold."
- With grateful joy: "Bless ye the Lord."
- Unanimously: "all ye."
- With holy reverence, as by "servants of the Lord."
- With unflagging constancy: "stand by night."
Verse 1. Ye that stand by night. The night watchmen of the Lord's house, their value, their obscurity, their danger slumber, their consolation, their dignity, their reward.